A Tonquin Tale

A Tonquin Tale

I’ve missed some very interesting discussions over the past few days, but have an excuse.  My long-suffering wife, anticipating her life after retirement, wanted to experience a spring hike in the Rockies.  Not needing much encouragement to visit my favorite place on the planet, we decided on a return to the Tonquin Valley.  I’ve described the rustic chalet hidden amongst trees in the shadows of mountains before, but always in its winter glory.  Spring is a more severe challenge in many ways.  The snow pack is melting and the myriad waterways are unleashed from icy hibernation.  As a result, March to May is generally a time of respite from human intrusion.  Nevertheless, I was eager to see how early this trek could be accomplished.   We set off to find out.

A Tonquin Tale

A Tonquin Tale

Our arrival at the trailhead was highly promising; although the summer access road was still gated shut, it was dry.  Up we hiked with packs laden for five days and snowshoes strapped to the outside as evidence of serious intentions.  Hours later we arrived at our first night’s accommodations; a deserted summer hostel not scheduled to open for another month.

A Tonquin Tale

A Tonquin Tale

Very early the next morning we set off on the trail alongside Edith Cavell mountain.  Cavell was named after a British field nurse executed as a spy during WWI for assistance given to escaping soldiers.  Her death was highly publicized and provided a great deal of motivation to the Allied cause.  Within the hour we encountered what would remain our nemesis for the rest of the day; deep snow accumulations on the trail.  We struggled to post-hole through for a while, and then donned the snowshoes only to encounter frequent dry and rocky spots.  Snowshoes off, snowshoes on; it became rather tedious.  Eventually we left the main trail for a less-used route that could save several kilometers.

A Tonquin Tale

A Tonquin Tale

Once across a narrow log bridge, the evidence of our increasing altitude became apparent – more snow.  Still, the trail was intermittently visible for an hour or so until it completely disappeared under a white blanket.  Out came the map and GPS.  We were past half-way and had reached our “turn-around time”, which is the point one either commits to moving forward or going back.  At the moment it was a sunny afternoon and difficult to contemplate future problems.  Still, the risk of continuing was clear; a potential night under the stars.  Each step in the now-isothermal snow resulted in a drop of several feet while the slush soaked through.  We were in thick lodgepole forest where every direction looked the same.  A compass can tell you which bearing to follow, but not the easiest route.  We turned back.

A Tonquin Tale

A Tonquin Tale

A Tonquin Tale

The hostel came into sight just after 7pm.  Dog-tired, we went through the usual routine of collecting water and firewood before supper could be prepared.  Following the clean-up, we were soon in bed.  The next morning greeted us with brilliant sunny skies and we turned around often for a last glance at the mountains while trudging down the road towards our car.  Once home, with the map spread-out on the table, it was clear that we had our most challenging terrain ahead when we decided to turn back.  In this instance, key to making the right choice was having my wife along.  I can only shudder to think of the results had I been with my usual gang of testosterone-driven pals!

A Tonquin Tale
The mix of spring greenery and snow is quite amazing, love reading
05/28/2012 - 01:32
your adventures and long to live them:-)
Book your flight Alex
05/28/2012 - 21:10
and we'll go for a stroll in the woods yes
A real beauty Dean. I first visited in 1969 when Angel glacier
05/28/2012 - 04:04
had bigger wings! I could just see a small piece of one wing from your picture. It looks like you two had a great time in one of the most beautiful places on earth--it just doesn't get any better. Thanks for sharing, Best, Tim
Glacial melt
05/28/2012 - 21:15
Hi Tim; as with all the glaciers in the Rockies (and around the world I understand) the Angel Glacier has receeded at least 50% since the 1920s.  I've noticed while hiking that many are visibly smaller since my previous visits - sometimes by kilometers!  Having been to the headwaters of many of the world's great rivers, where they start as dribbles of water coming off these huge glaciers, I wonder what will happen when our consumption of fresh water finally exceeds their production.
beautiful and adventurous, Dean the conqueror of the Rockies -;) (nt)
05/28/2012 - 13:38
yes
LOL Radek, in this case...
05/28/2012 - 21:17
the mountains conquored us!  Still, any day in the great outdoors is better than one spent in the office devil
Stunning scenery!
05/28/2012 - 14:32
One of my biggest regrets has been not making it out to the Rockies while I was in the States. Breathtaking pictures! Thank you for sharing what seems to have been an amazing experience! Best, Walid
Thanks Walid
05/28/2012 - 21:27
Truthfully, it was more of a weekend jaunt than an amazing adventure.  Still, although we make enough noise to give bears fair warning (a narrow trail is the worst place to have an accidental encounter), we spotted tracks for caribou and wolf made within hours of our passing.  The picture 2nd from the bottom is from a lone wolf that had the good sense to step in our footprints to save energy in the soft wet snow.   On the first day while hiking up the closed access road, we passed a deer kill from the previous winter, perhaps by the same wolf, and finally uncovered from snow.
Could this be my homeland???
05/29/2012 - 03:31
My name is Ed TONKIN! Perhaps it is actually Ed TONQUIN and this is my birthplace?! Oops, I forgot. That's the Gulf of Tonkin!!!:) Well in any event it's gorgeous and thank you so much for this wonderful post! Eddy
A possible connection...
05/29/2012 - 17:54
Tonquin Valley was named after an American fur-trading ship, so your name might be a variation.  The Massacre of the Tonquin is quite an exciting tale and even led to a poem by Edgar Allan Poe.  It involved a battle in 1811 between the crew of the Tonquin and the native Nootka people on Vancouver Island following a typical dispute between the traders, who considered the natives as primatives, and the ancient and civilized coastal tribe.  The drama ended when the last survivng sailor blew the ship and himself up!  I've explored this area and will be returning to hike the coast of Vancouver Island in July. If you are interested in knowing more about first contact between the whites and natives of the area, I'd highly recommend The Land of Maquinna by Ian S. Mahood as a great read.